By a vote of 12-1, the Jefferson County Quorum Court on Monday approved a revised 2019 budget that is more than $520,000 less than the budget approved earlier this year.
The reductions came as a result of County Judge Gerald Robinson’s request earlier this year for each elected official to reduce the size of their office staff by one person.
“There were some tough decisions by the elected officials, but a lot of them had slots in their offices that were vacant and they didn’t fill them,” Robinson said.
He said that only two elected officials, Tax Collector Tony Washington and Circuit Clerk Lafayette Woods Sr., did not comply with the request to reduce their staffs.
Justice of the Peace Dr. Herman Ginger said in the case of those two offices, it was up to the Quorum Court to reduce their budgets, something Justice of the Peace Ted Harden, chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee, said was included in the revised ordinance.
Washington argued that he had made the cut required by transferring one employee who was previously paid from County General to the Collector’s Automation Fund, but that transfer was done without prior approval of the county’s legislative body.
Justice of the Peace Brenda Bishop-Gaddy was the only member of the Quorum Court to vote against the proposed budget, saying that she could not support anything that resulted in employees losing their jobs.
Robinson said reducing the size of the county workforce has been talked about for a number of years, and county officials ignored the subject.
He said Jefferson County's population has declined over the past 10 years, and with it the tax base. According to the U.S. Census, the county had a population of 77,435 in 2010. By 2016, the population had fallen to 70,016.
“And the casino is not going to save Jefferson County’s tax base,” Robinson said. “We get the casino, but if we lose 10 or 15 other businesses, we’re in no better shape than we are now.”
“We’ve got to do what’s best for the county,” he said.
In addition to $368,29.71 in savings from the other elected officials reducing their workforces, reductions in the Sheriff’s Office workforce saved $53,060, and reductions in the county judge’s budget, which includes the Road Department and recycling, generated another $103,334 in savings.
Also on Monday, the Quorum Court approved a $42,000 appropriation for the Sheriff’s Office, which will cover utilities for the next three months. The money will come from transferring funds that had been designated for vehicles.
Sheriff Lafayette Woods Jr. had asked for $428,000 in additional funding for his department, which included $188,259 to cover the loan the county took out to complete the new Sheriff’s Office building and more than $200,000 to make up the shortfall between what the office had asked for and what it received this year.
Chris Brown, the bookkeeper for the Sheriff’s Office, said in a letter to Robinson that the office would return in the near future with additional funding requests.
“Make no mistake, they will be back,” Robinson said.
Much of the discussion during the more than two-hour meeting centered on an ordinance to pay $150,000 to Jonesboro Roofing Company for work done on the county courthouse after last year’s hail storm. That payment is just under half of the total bill from the company, $303,391, and is the result of a deal Robinson made with them.
Harden said that after the hail storm, there was a lot of confusion about insurance claims. Former County Judge Booker Clemons put some of the money received into County General rather than in a separate fund to pay for repairs.
“It was not all the fault of the previous administration,” Harden said. “It was the fault of the insurance company, too.”
Robinson’s chief of staff, Pamela Jenkins, said there is currently about $270,000 in the fund to pay for the repairs, and Justice of the Peace Dr. Conley Byrd recommended that the county take all the money in that account to make a payment to the roofing company.
Robinson opposed that, saying that he had made a deal with the company and the $150,000 would allow the county to avoid a penalty, as well as give it time to come up with the remaining approximately $30,000 needed to finish paying the bill.
An initial motion to pay just the $150,000 failed to win the nine votes necessary, and a substitute motion by Byrd to pay the company $270,000 also failed. Justice of the Peace then called for a second vote for the original $150,000 payment, and this time the vote was successful. Before that vote, Jenkins said the money was in a separate account and could not be used for any other purpose.